Matt Warshaw, left, and shaping guru Jeff Ho. | Photo: Ken Seino

Surf historian Matt Warshaw on man-vs-machine board-building conundrum: “By leaning into the code and the hardware we have exterminated the wizards. The boards are better but the sport is duller!”

Thank you and goodbye, shaping guru.

I spent last Sunday at the Boardroom Show in Del Mar.

I haven’t been to a trade event in years, but it was the same as ever; I drag my feet walking in, spot a friendly face, then another, and next thing you know the day has passed and I’ve done nothing but talk and laugh and catch up with people I know and like, and then driving back to Manhattan Beach I had a magical classic rock run on Sirius XM’s ’70s on 7. Long live the well-exhumed deep cut. It was an excellent Sunday.

But I couldn’t wait to get back to Squid Game and Injury Reserve and dream-scrolling my grey-on-black Lucid Air with Dreamdrive Pro package, and the rest of what is best about 2021, because while my relationship to the past is grounding and warm and enduring, the new thing can still hit me like a razor tapping on glass, and everything else blurs as I rush toward it, ready to devour. 

Don’t get me wrong.

Both are necessary, past and present, and I keep my neck limber so that I can look smoothly behind and forward.

But the only reason I can run a surfing encyclopedia website and not bore the shit out of you guys—and ipso facto not bore the shit out of myself—is because I’ve made a cattle-prod of the present and figured out how and where and when to stick it into our shared history.

Leap with my now as I attempt to connect this notion to my love for both the guru shaper and the shaping machine.

First, the machine.

A thousand years ago, a freethinking kahuna found a piece of coral that worked better than the piece he already had for grinding koa trees into surfboards—and from there, to my mind, boardmaking tech has been one long happy march forward, delivering us to our present-day CAD-programmed spindle-driven five-axis foam-carving hot rod with mounted digital probe scanning function and dual cup holders. 

The boardmaking Holy Grail, people. All design variables finally under control. Our greatest hands-on shapers were great indeed, but none can eyeball or “feel” a shape job down to ± 0.01-inch tolerance. And why should they? You shouldn’t have to tune the piano and write the song at the same time. Just write the song.

On the other hand, the machine does not fit in with our shared belief—something I hold near and dear—that surfing is half sport and half infinite R&D adventure; and in fact by leaning into the code and the hardware we have exterminated the wizards.

The boards are better but the sport is duller.

My head is with the machines, in other words, but my heart is with Dick Brewer, who sat there ancient and stone-faced in his booth in Del Mar, by the looks of it already in silent conversation with his kami gods. I already miss him. Ten-thousand machines will give us 10-million perfect boards, but the sport will nonetheless be poorer for never again having an exchange like the one that took place in 1970, when Jeff Hakman stopped by Brewer’s factory to pick up a new gun. 

Jeff, the hottest North Shore surfer at the time, and probably the nicest as well, looked his gleaming new stick over and casually wondered if maybe the tail was a tiny bit too pulled in? Brewer didn’t say a thing, just picked up a saw, cut the back 12 inches off, and let the board drop to the floor. Turned to Hakman and asked, “How’s that? Is that better for you?” Nobody gurued like Brewer.

PS: It took 50 years, but I finally had a real conversation with Jeff Ho, my own original shaping guru. Jeff was the first person I saw at the Boardroom Show—he is a low-key underground dandy in his classic dark-blue Zephyr Team T-shirt and the flowing-white Gandolf hair-and-beard combo—and we chatted away for 20 minutes, which was 19.5 minutes more than my longest conversation with him back in the old days. 

Jeff is not as old as Dick Brewer, but getting up there nonetheless, and while we laughed and reminisced he nonetheless seemed a little vague on details. Then at the very end I asked about a board he made me in 1972. Jeff closed his eyes for a moment, then looked at me and said “6′ 6″ roundpin, clear, wider in the hips than the one I made you before that.” I shook his hand but should have dropped to my knees and kowtowed.

(You like this? Matt Warshaw delivers a surf history essay every Sunday, PST. All of ’em a pleasure to read. Maybe time to subscribe to Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing, yeah? Three bucks a month.)

Editor’s note: After reading this wonderful piece, I wanted to clarify with Warshaw if he was pro or anti-machines. “100% machines in terms of what is best for 2021 or any period since . . . what, 1995? The machines are the best and least-appreciated development in boardmaking, ever. That said, the sport was more interesting and more fun before the machines, when we all sat at the feet of the great shapers, even if it was just the local hot-shot… But my strike rate with those guys, even the best of ’em, was pretty low. Machine-made boards, it was (still is) bang, bang, bang, very good or magic, one after the other. So thank you and goodbye, shaping guru.”

Dirty Water: Surf feminist hero Lucy Small on her feud with pro surfing founder Ian Cairns, the fight for equal prizemoney and squashing the pale-skinned devil behind it all, “The apex predator of the patriarchy is white men!”

"The male is completely egocentric, trapped inside himself, incapable of empathizing or identifying with others, or love, friendship, affection of tenderness!"

Two weeks ago, Charlie and I enjoyed the company of Lucy Small, a Sydney-based longboarder and surf feminist, on the erratically published podcast Dirty Water.

Lucy rocketed to fame five months ago when she gave organisers of a longboard contest hell from the stage for paying the women half as much as the men.

The effect was seismic and mainstream media went into overdrive, for who, after all, doesn’t love a little patriarchy busting? Is there no crime greater or more deserving than a little public vengeance?

And, three weeks ago, Lucy went head to head with the founder of professional surfing, Mr Ian Cairns, via Instagram DMs after she posted a meme featuring the hanging scene from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. 

Kanga took it as a personal affront, white man being executed; our guest did it to highlight the hypocrisy of an amendment to Texan abortion laws. 

Over the course of an hour or thereabouts, we all agree white men are the worst (I’m of a brown-ish hue, Charlie is yellowed from the booze), we both recall, with gusto, the wonderful Valerie Solanas and her Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM) and that it would be a very good thing if Lucy could get twenty-thousand signatures on her petition for equal prizemoney so it can be tabled in parliament.

(Lucy also builds up the tension of her on-stage equal pay moment very well.)

Sign here! 

Surf competition in Hawaii. Almost a forgotten memory.
Surf competition in Hawaii. Almost a forgotten memory.

Hawaii’s professional surfing class grows furious as competitions remain cancelled while football, soccer run unimpeded: “I’m taking it as a cultural insult!”

Time for respect.

Proper resentment is taking hold amongst Hawaii’s professional surfing class as competitions remain cancelled, due Covid-19 restrictions, while soccer, football and other team sports are in full swing.

According to a new report on the islands’ ABC affiliate, the World Surf League has cancelled yet another regional qualifier citing state mandates on the number of people allowed to gather together.

Former pro surfer Kahea Hart told the station, “I’m taking it more as a cultural insult you know, as a Hawaiian, and watching football, soccer, and those sports being able to be played and surfing, which is outdoors and there’s four guys in the water, that’s our ancestors did that. And it’s not right. Football players are on the line, going head to head coughing, spitting, grunting pushing each other, tackling each other. How much more safe is that than for surfers in the water not touching?”

Jen Tema, whose son Luke has dreams of making onto tour, is agitated as well declaring, “None of our Hawaii kids have trained, they’ve had one contest in two years. And the kids that want to go on tour and the kids that want to try to qualify, have no points. I’m asking (the government) to reclassify it or rename it if it’s considered a gathering, put it in the same you know, same boxes football and soccer whatever is allowed them to keep going, Reclassify it, rename it recategorize it whatever they need to do to give us the same respect that they give football, soccer, all the other sports.”

Honolulu’s mayor has assured his weary public that no other surf competitions will be cancelled but his optimism beggar’s belief as Governor David Ige has extended his emergency proclamation indefinitely.

A solution?

Governor BJ Penn?

One octagon to unite them all.

Mike, my shaper, says I should get keels but I got a sweet Machado twin-fin setup. Carbon fiber and bamboo is so enviro-friendly.

Surfline Man buys Machado fins for new red fish, “He is totally sweating right now! He is so nervous! He is going to put fins in his new fish! What if he does it all wrong?”

A new peril strikes the VAL kingdom!

Surfline Man is sitting on his couch, his very favorite place to be. He loves surfing so much! 

But he is also very lazy. 

He couldn’t make it to yoga, even when a cute girl invited him. Surfline Man would like to be better, but it’s just so much effort. 

Today is a good day. 

Without even moving, Surfline Man can see his brand-new red fish leaning against the wall. Yes, at long last, Surfline Man picked up his new surfboard that Mike the Shaper made it just for him. 

Surfline Man is feeling all the good vibes. Mike made him a surfboard. 

They’re, like, best bros for life now. 

Surfline Man is pretty sure his new red fish is totally perfect. For one thing, it’s red, and everyone knows red surfboards are faster. It feels so good under his arm like all the best surfboards do. 

Surfline Man is so in love with with his new red fish. He can’t even stop looking at it. 

His fish! At last! It is just so red!

All he needs now is fins. Mike the Shaper told him to buy keels for his new fish. Surfline Man is not about to question his new best bro shaper Mike. 

But there’s just one problem. 

When Surfline Man went to the surf shop, there were no keel fins! Like, none at all. Surfline Man was very surprised and dismayed by this discovery. Surfline Man had no idea what to do.  

Mike the shaper told him to put keel fins on his fish and he can’t!

Dejected, Surfline Man drove home. 

So now he’s lying on his couch, with his beautiful fish right there in front of him, thinking about fins. Surfline Man reaches for his laptop that he bought for important things like looking at surf forecasts and searching for fins for his new surfboard. 

Only Google can help him now.

Surfline Man needs to find keel fins for his new fish right now. Surely, the internet can save him. 

It’s super important!

Opening his laptop, Surfline Man sees the final episode of The Ultimate Surfer waiting for him. In all the excitement of picking up his new surfboard, Surfline Man forgot all about the grand finale of his new favorite show. 

So much drama! He loves it so much! Surfline Man is not about to tell anyone, of course. 

Just yesterday, in fact, he heard some people talking about The Ultimate Surfer in the check-out line at Seaside Market. They thought Zeke was going to win. 

It was all Surfline Man could do not to tell them they were totally wrong. Of course, Koa is going to win. He is plainly the best of all! But Surfline Man kept his mouth shut. 

Even his friends don’t know the real truth. 

— you watch any of that Ultimate Surfer shit

— nah it looks stupid so not into it

Surfline Man does not like lying to his friends, but sometimes it’s totally necessary. It’s just better for anyone. His friends don’t need to know his deepest, realest secrets.

Anyway, fins. He needs them. 

Surfline Man reluctantly sets aside The Ultimate Surfer and returns to his super urgent problem. He must find keel fins for his new fish. It’s like totally imperative. 

But no! 

The internet totally hates him. Surfline Man can not find keel fins anywhere. He heard there was some sort of situation with the supply chains or the Suez Canal or something. 

But really, he can’t keep up with everything. 

There’s the surf forecast and The Ultimate Surfer and the tides — there’s just so much going on, he can barely keep up with it all. Really, no one can expect him to understand why there are no fins available to put on his brand-new surfboard that Mike the Shaper made just for him. 

It’s all so annoying! Surfline Man wants his new surfboard to be perfect!

 He doesn’t even know what to do now. He has waited so long and all he wants to do is ride his new surfboard. 

But really, how much could the fins matter? Surfline Man knows that his fish is super good. Mike the shaper would not fail him. It’ll probably work fine with like, whatever fins he can find. 

Determined, Surfline Man peels himself off the couch, and hops on his e-bike. He is going back to the surf shop and he is going to buy some fins. 

Surfline Man knows he’s good at surfing. He even got a wave at Malibu! He can totally ride his new fish with whatever fins he can find at the surf shop. It’s going to be totally fine. 

Back at the surf shop, Surfline Man shuffles through the fins on the rack. Futures. He needs Futures. He is so desperate right now. Any Futures will do! 

Then he finds them. A Rob Machado twin fin set-up. Surfline Man knows better than to think that Rob Machado’s fins will magically make him surf like Rob. But he lives to hope. 

Carbon fiber! They sound so high-tech. And bamboo is so enviro-friendly. 

Surfline Man loves these fins so much already. And they have a red stripe! They’re totally going to match his new surfboard. Everyone knows red fins are the very fastest fins ever. Surfline Man is confident in this fact if nothing else. 

Sliding his new fins in his favorite Da Kine backpack, Surfline Man rides home super fast. He can’t even wait to put his new fins on his surfboard. Red board. Red fins. It’s going to look so sick. Surfline Man is so psyching right now!

Back in his garage, Surfline Man parks his Rad Power Bikes ebike. He lovingly lays his new, red fish on the couch. 

He is totally sweating right now! Surfline Man is going to put his fins in his new fish.

He is so nervous! What if he does it all wrong? 

It’s impossible to put Futures in backwards, and Surfline Man feels super fortunate about this fact. He doesn’t want to admit it, but he’s pretty sure he would put his fins in backwards if he could. 

He is not always as smart as he wishes he was. He tries not to think about this truth too often. 

Phew. The fins are in his beautiful, new surfboard. They look so fucking cool. Surfline Man is not even mad he couldn’t have keel fins. His Machado fins with the red stripes look so much more awesome! 

Surfline Man pretty sure the hook part makes them faster. Is that the rake? 

Surfline Man isn’t totally clear on the parts of fins or even how they work. Whatever. Surfline Man is going to surf his new board soon, and it’s going to be the best day ever. 

Now he’s in the lineup, sitting on his new fish, waiting for the waves to come. There’s a bro sitting on a midlength right next to him. Surfline Man eyes the board. It does look pretty cool. But he’s totally over midlengths. 

He’s a fish guy now. 

— That’s a cool board, bro, what is it?

— It’s a fish! I got it from Mike. It’s a 5’6” and I’m pretty stoked on it!

— Yah, looks sweet. What fins are those?

— Futures, they’re a Rob Machado design!

— How do they go? I’ve always ridden keels on my fish

— They’re fast! I really like them! They’ve got, like, so much hold

— Sweet, looks fun, bro

A wave comes, and the guy on the midlength goes. Surfline Man watches critically. Personally, he would have done a bottom turn earlier, but he has to admit the guy does have a nice style. 

Then it’s his turn. Surfline Man is so excited! A wave is coming! Surfline Man is finally going to ride his new fish. It’s going to be the most fun he’s ever had in his entire life!

Feeling totally confident, Surfline Man paddles into his first ever wave on his new, red fish that Mike the Shaper made just for him. His fish suddenly feels very short and Surfline Man is worried his back foot might slide right off the back. 

But no! He makes it just fine. 

There he is, standing on his fish, his back foot right where it’s supposed to be. Really, Surfline Man had nothing to worry about. He’s totally got this. Totally. 

The magic red fish takes off just like Surfline Man imagined it would. His new surfboard is going so fast right now. Surfline Man is pretty sure he’s flying. Everyone must surely be in awe of his surfing right now.

 Look at that guy, he’s going so fast! He’s so stylish! 

Now it’s time to turn. Surfline Man is super ready to get rad right now. He is going to surf just like his favorite surfers. Surfline Man steps hard on the tail and leans into the rail, ready to make his brand new fish turn all smooth and seamless. 

Then disaster strikes! Surfline Man tries to turn, but his beautiful red fish slides out from under him. He tries desperately to save it. In an awkward and super, not-at-all stylish maneuver, Surfline Man recovers. 

But now he’s totally behind the section. He tries to drive hard and make it, but it’s way too late. All he can do is straighten out and fall sadly into the white water. 

It’s just the first wave! 

Surfline Man tries to console himself on the way back to the lineup. Definitely, he can do better. He just has to get used to his new surfboard and how it works and stuff. 

Sitting in the lineup, waiting for the next set, Surfline Man flips over his board. He gazes admiringly on the perfect red resin tint and his favorite new fins that match so perfectly. 

Surfline Man gets this surfboard thing. 

He totally gets it!

Orange County surfer describes terrifying moment he was almost killed in front of his son by a pod of dolphins trying to outrace oil spill!

This is the end, beautiful friend.

Friday happened to find me in Huntington Beach, California with two great friends and our young charges. We had gone to the shore, after a morning of school, to watch the Pacific Airshow. It was hot, apocalyptic hot, and as the Canadian Snowbirds flew in formation overhead it felt generally apocalyptic too.

There was a fine swell in the sheet glass though not one surfer out. It seemed disallowed, maybe in case one of the Snowbirds fell out of formation and into the lineup. One jet skier patrolled back and forth making sure it all stayed empty and would have opportunity to chase the odd hopeful who had trundled to water’s edge half wetsuited clutching yellowed funboard.

He would have to trundle back, legs very sweaty and observing the grimace became more enjoyable than fighter jets doing cutbacks.

Pleasure craft turned the area north of the pier all the way to 9th street into a Waterworld-esque parking lot. Freighters, waiting in line to unload cargo at Los Angeles’s overworked port stretched across the entire horizon.

A dystopia straight out of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s fevered dreams.

Little did I know oil had begun to seep from an offshore pipeline and would eventually dump more than 144,000 gallons into the brine. Little did I know the following morning a pod of dolphins fleeing that black death would almost kill a surfer in front of his son.

Joe Mozingo described his encounter in The Los Angeles Times, writing:

I had waited until midmorning for the tide to go down and the small waves to show a bit more strength. By 10:30 I had caught a few crumblers at the south end of Bolsa Chica State Beach and was paddling back out, when about 10 dolphins tore through the heavy crowd of surfers. One broke through the surface just a few feet ahead of me. “Whoa!” I said. They were racing north as fast as I’d ever seen.

Dolphins are a common sight in Huntington. But they usually saunter around, and swim fast only when they’re riding waves. When they do dart like that, it can be unnerving because they come alarmingly close, and at more than 300 pounds, they could cause a disastrous collision.

But I’ve never seen them make a mistake, so I just sat there and marveled for a minute. You could track them by watching the startled reaction of surfers as they moved up the coast.

“I’d never seen them do that,” I muttered to the surfer next to me, who looked gobsmacked.

When the boat wake had all but destroyed the surf, I went in. My son was already on the beach. “Dad, that dolphin almost killed you,” he said.

“Did you see that?” I asked, surprised he could see it from the beach. “That was insane.”

“It was like they were running from something,” he said.

Running from the end of the world.